Review of ‘On The Edge’, by Kate Bellis with Michael Simmons

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11th February 2002, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Kate Bellis with Michael Simmons
Published by the Rural Media Company
ISBN 0-9530599-0-1 (2002)

The very cover of this book alerts you to something special. A pair of hands seem to be clasped in prayer, as well they might. They are the work-worn hands of a farmer. A woman farmer, well into her eighties.

This is one of the extraordinary photographs by Kate Bellis of Wirksworth. Kate had already undertaken several commissions around the world, mostly concerned with people and cultures under threat, when she took up a project in the Peak. For over two years Kate worked with hill farming families, focusing her camera particularly on the women around whom farm and family revolve.

The results may not have surprised Kate. She was born on a farm and her mother is a farmer. But the book should humble everybody who thinks that farming is none of their business. When this project began we already had BSE and the bottom had dropped out of the sheep farming industry. Prices of both lambs and wool had plummeted and government bureaucracy was seen as a nonsense.

Then came foot-and-mouth. It didn't reach the Peak but it has left enormous problems. Farmers who lost their beasts are being compensated; those left with animals to feed but no market are also suffering hardship, some facing ruin.

Kate Bellis's exhibition, On the Edge, has been shown at Buxton Museum. The total number of visitor comments was one of the highest ever, filling nine pages of the visitors' book. Farmers don't come in great numbers to art exhibitions but they did to this one. Some came back time and again with different friends and relatives.

Kate has now worked with the acclaimed Guardian writer Michael Simmons to publish On the Edge as a compelling photo-documentary.

All proceeds go to a dedicated fund for Derbyshire rural communities.

Review by Julie Bunting

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